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Uganda cuts prices to revive tourism sector

Mountain gorillas are Uganda’s prized tourist attraction, contributing a large share of tourism earnings.

Uganda has announced incentives to kick-start tourism recovery amid the COVID-19 pandemic that heavily impacted on the sector that earns the country over 1.6 billion U.S. dollars annually in normal times.

The state conservation agency, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA), on Thursday announced price cuts to catalyze the resumption of tourism in protected areas like national parks.

The agency said for every 30 gorilla permits bought, the tour operator gets two permits for free, one for the company and the other for the Association of Uganda Tour Operators, an umbrella organization that brings tour operators together.

Mountain gorillas are Uganda’s prized tourist attraction, contributing a large share of tourism earnings.

Uganda hosts over 50 percent of the global population of mountain gorillas, according to UWA figures.

The UWA said for every gorilla permit bought, the tourist receives free entry to Mount Elgon National Park or Toro Semliki Wildlife Reserve, where there is vast flora and fauna.

The conservation agency said it will continue offering promotional permits to enable destination marketing and bring in agents and public relations firms from outside the country.

Filming fees in the national parks have also been reduced to enable creation of material for marketing.

These incentives come after the government on June 4 announced a stimulus package for sectors that have been drastically affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tourism is one of the sectors that the ministry of finance highlighted as the most affected, especially by restrictive lockdown measures like a halt to international arrivals.

Tourism firms, according to the finance ministry, qualify for deferred payment of corporation tax or presumptive tax due between April and June 2020. The payment was deferred until September 2020. Payment of Pay-As-You Earn tax was also deferred to September 2020.

Domestic tourism

While the country is still closed to international arrivals to stop the importation of the virus, tour operators have resorted to promoting domestic tourism, with packages at reduced prices.

Taddeo Rusoke, founder of Inside Africa Safaris-Uganda, told Xinhua in a recent interview that his firm has resorted to online campaigns to attract domestic tourists.

“We recommend visitors to go to all savanna parks in Uganda such as Lake Mburo, Queen Elizabeth, Murchison Falls and Kidepo Valley,” he said.

“For quick tours around central and eastern Uganda, visitors can think of the several tourism spots in Jinja such as rafting on the Nile and other cultural establishments that are open,” Rusoke said.

Tourism minister Tom Butime recently talked about a sighting of 600 Elands in Lopolokocho, in Pian-Upe Wildlife Reserve, in eastern Uganda.

“The recovery of wildlife in Pian-Upe Wildlife Reserve is very impressive and amazing,” the minister said. “I do not know how many Ugandans who have ever seen a herd of 600 Elands grazing. This is a rare spectacle.”

“Immediately after the lockdown is lifted, I will invite fellow Ugandans to rush to Pian-Upe to see Elands in a herd of 600.

“Anybody outside Uganda, on reading this, should catch the first plane to Uganda to see this spectacle before the herd disappears to another grazing area,” Butime said.

The minister said there is also boom at other conservation areas. In Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, two new births of mountain gorillas were reported; a new giraffe calf was received at Lake Mburo National Park.

“This country now must prepare for a surge, an avalanche of tourists as soon as the lockdown is lifted,” he said. “This time, tourists should not only come from outside Uganda.”

Christopher Wanda, the proprietor of Primate Expeditions, told Xinhua in a recent interview that his tour agency has been preparing for the post-COVID-19 era.

“We are using this ‘quiet’ period to prepare for the ‘new normal,’ training our staff, putting in place quality assurance measures, with a keen eye on the directives by the World Health Organization,” Wanda said.

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